Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Debate within SDS. RYM II vs. Weatherman

Les Coleman, Chicago Regional SDS

Notes on Class Analysis: Some Implications for the Revolutionary Youth Movement

I. The Main Goal of the Revolutionary Youth Movement

As practice in different parts of the country develops differently, varying conceptions of the Revolutionary Youth Movement will emerge. As a result, it is necessary to try to formulate again and again the main tasks of our movement and gain perspective on each new development. Basically, in first formulating the Revolutionary Youth Movement, we knew that 1) the class structure of this country was obscured by the developments of imperialism and 2) that we had to find ways to unite the mass of people behind proletarian leadership and the guidance of a communist party against the imperialists.

We were faced with the undeniable problem that U.S. imperialism, in its basic economic structure and superstructure, had obscured the class interest of millions of workers, particularly white workers, in this country. No matter how militant, these workers sided with the imperialists against the black liberation struggle and the whole international liberation movement. They had accepted the internal fight against the development of a communist party as their own. Our task was – and is – to develop a force which can help to seed an anti-imperialist movement among the mass of people and especially among the mass of working people who must lead that movement. Where possible this force must aid in the building of the communist party that can guide this movement to victory and to socialism.

We suggested that this force could come partially from a movement of youth. All youth are objectively oppressed by the crisis in imperialism – in the schools, the army, on the job and by the police and the courts – and many can be won to the fight for socialism. A mass of youth can be involved and this is a step in building a material fighting force against the imperialists. We believed that this youth movement could recruit more and more youth from working class backgrounds and that this could help to spread the anti-imperialist movement among the mass of people.

The point is that the “relationship to the means of production” is particular as well as general. It is not just owning it or not owning it, a much more particular analysis tells that different sectors of the population can be won to the revolutionary cause in different ways and to different extents.

We determined to reach out to high schools and junior colleges where more youth from working class backgrounds were and to recruit youth from the shops and communities. At the same time we would continue to expand and heighten our militant confrontations against the racist, imperialist involvement of the major universities. We enunciated clearly that leadership in the development of a strong anti-imperialist movement with communist leadership must come from both the black and brown population because of the dual nature of their oppression: they are both colonized as a people “outside” of the white imperialist nation, like the Vietnamese, and they are exploited as workers inside this white imperialist nation along side workers of other national origins.

The Revolutionary Youth Movement has already shown its potential for developing both as a material fighting force an as a force to extend the anti-imperialist movement to the mass of people. But we must become clearer on the division among the people and on who are our friends and who are our enemies.

II. On the Class Basis of this Decadent, Racist, Imperialist Society

A class analysis has two tasks:

The first step in a class analysis is to understand the antagonism of the two basic classes: capitalist and worker. The second, more difficult step is to develop a comprehensive analysis of all classes and class segments in U.S. society. An understanding of their economic interrelationships will indicate the extent of their revolutionary development and potential, and will reveal their relative importance to the success of the revolution. This understanding must come from experience in working and struggling with the people who make up a particular class, and from study of the inner workings of American corporate capitalism. – Red Papers, from the Bay Area Revolutionary Union

There are some who would have us believe that, at least in the United States, the second task is made easy, even redundant, for us, because all classes and sectors of classes have been brought to conform to the basic antagonism between the two main classes: capitalist and worker. The task that follows from this analysis would seem to be to win everyone to the view that socialism is in their objective interest; but the analysis doesn’t begin to tell us how that “winning” can take place.

Let me give an example of this way of looking at things:

Marx’s prophecy of the development of capitalist society into two classes, a large working class and a small ruling bourgeoisie, has nearly come true. Stated another way, the complex socialization of production and the concentration of production into the private ownership of a tiny number of people is very nearly complete in the USA. If class membership is determined by relationship to the means of production, in a Marxist fashion, then the vast majority of the people of this country, who own no means of production, and are forced to sell their labor power to someone who does, are members of the working class. – Jim Mellen, NLN, May 13 (See preceding selection.)

This merging of the two tasks of class analysis (the particular and the general) leads us to further conclusions:

It is, rather, to point out that the socialization of the ownership and control of the means of production is in the objective class interests of the overwhelming majority of the people at this time – which is a radically different situation than has ever existed previously. – Ibid.

According to this view the petit bourgeoisie has almost entirely dissolved into the proletariat which is opposed antagonistically to a small monopoly bourgeoisie which it will soon destroy once it gets through the privileges which are throw like crumbs from the table to divide the proletariat amongst itself. And the mass of students, soon, will be off to the races too, since they are objectively members of the proletariat as well:

The student, by studying, creates value within himself in the form of skilled labor power, and in so doing performs an exploited and alienated labor. – Ibid. (Is the baby creating surplus value in itself when it is drinking milk?)

And then ...

The class content of the students struggle is determined by their objective class position. Ibid. (In the proletariat!)

Perhaps this is a creative use of Marxist analysis. It sure is mystifying in the light of the realities of the population of this country. What it lacks is an understanding of any particular realities. Let me quote from Mao on dogmatism:

Our dogmatists are lazy-bones. They refuse to undertake any painstaking study of concrete things, they regard general truths as emerging from out of the void, they turn them into purely abstract formulas, and thereby completely deny and reverse the normal sequence by which man comes to know the truth .. . They understand nothing of the Marxist theory of knowledge. – On Contradiction

Dogmatism. But it is dogmatism which can lead to one of two very dangerous ways of looking at things. The first says, pragmatically, that since everyone is in the proletariat and socialism is in their objective interests, we must simply mobilize that group which will move to the highest stage of struggle (armed struggle) and the rest of the people will follow this example. Since this way of thinking has taken no account of the mass of the people, it does not interest itself in preparing the people to understand the necessity of these struggles. It does not interest itself in serving the people in their struggles for survival and winning the people to the necessity of revolution. The mass of people (of American people) have no understanding of what these actions are about and deem them anarchist. The revolutionary gain is slight and the damage great. This is the line of all struggle and no unity.

The second tendency is all unity and no struggle. This is the line of revisionists like the CP who unite with all struggles, don’t care who is in the leadership, never raise the necessity of armed struggle and revolution and fail altogether to serve the interests of the proletariat. In fact they often lose the respect of the people because they will not fight when if is necessary and they never provide the example of struggle that is the job of revolutionaries.

As the first is adventurism, so the second is opportunism. But both tendencies are supported by the “two class” analysis because neither knows anything about the particular interests of the people; what they can be won to and against; who are the friends and who are the enemies of the revolution and the anti-imperialist struggle. To steer a correct course between these mistakes we have to look more closely at the class structure of the U.S. and pay more attention to the mass of people.

Although I can’t claim to know the theory, to have mastered the data or had the necessary practice to make a total class analysis, it seems necessary to have some overall class picture of this monster to develop correct strategy and tactics for our movement. As a starting point, trying to use our common sense and analyzing our limited practice, we can make a few preliminary divisions.

1. We know there exists a group of monopoly capitalists – their interests are international as much as national – and they are the most powerful group in the country since their control of the means of production and of the state is most extensive and absolute. They are the main criminals of imperialism. Their number is relatively small, and they are an unhealthy, ulcer-ridden and sexless lot of people. They are the upper bourgeoisie. (Kill a few, get a little satisfaction; kill some more, get some more satisfaction; but kill them all, get complete satisfaction.)

2. Secondly, we have the middle bourgeoisie. They are small capitalists, upper level managerial men and women who own large quantities of stock, going down to relatively small businessmen who control small enterprises. This is a mixed bag. Many of their interests profit from and are linked in tightly with the monopolists, the leaders of the bourgeoisie, but many are in competition with the monopolists and are hurt by them: either squeezed out by the methods of monopoly or hurt by the crisis in imperialism which they see the monopolists as leading us into.

This is a fairly large group of fiends who are out for nobody but themselves in spite of the fact of a very, very small few of the disillusioned who may be a source of limited funds for the movement. Some of them may side eventually with the “in-name-only” anti-imperialist forces but will oppose communist leadership of that anti-imperialist political force. A few, perhaps, who are really under the squeeze of monopoly may be won over, at least temporarily.

3. The petit bourgeoisie – the lowest segments of the bourgeoisie. This is the most confusing category of all. It is not simply determined by that group “which employs and lives off small numbers of laborers.” For instance, Mao included in the petit bourgeoisie of China in the ’20’s ”the owner-peasants, the master handicraftsmen, the lower levels of the intellectuals, students, primary and secondary school teachers.” At the most general, Marx treats this class as an intermediate class, caught, between the class conflict of capitalist and worker. In getting down to the specific base or more particular characterizations, Marx uses such distinctions as labor which creates surplus value and labor which realizes surplus value for the capitalists, placing people of the second category in the intermediate classes.

It is clear that as it takes fewer and fewer workers to produce what capitalism needs then there will be 1) a growing number of people who are unemployed or marginally unemployed and 2) a growing number of people who have jobs in such areas as marketing, management, etc. We must know much more specifically how this second group can be won to the leadership of the proletariat against imperialism. We do not have a very clear idea now, but let me sketch out a few notions in dealing with the petit bourgeoisie. Many of the conclusions of this whole class analysis may be wrong but at this stage in our development it seems more important to put forth preliminary ideas and be prepared to admit that they are wrong than not to say anything at all.

The first section of the petit bourgeoisie consists of people who own enough stock or property to carry them through with out working for a period. Many of them have been forced “down” by the rest of the bourgeoisie and are bitter. They are mostly white. Except for a few renegades they want desperately to be members of the bourgeoisie, cling to their comforts, hate communism and the spectre of the working class, especially the black working class and the black colony. Even so, in a broad fight against the monopolists some of them could be won to working class leadership.

The second section of the petit bourgeoisie, probably, consists of those who are generally self-supporting; they manage filling stations, motels, super-markets, small shops, etc. This includes some small farmers although many small farmers should be put in the first section. A small percentage is black or brown. Many of these can be won to revolutionary leadership against city and state-wide monopoly interests which are making it increasingly hard for them to survive. If they cannot run their businesses day to day they have little or nothing to fall back on. Many are forced to take wage labor jobs on the side, or from time to time.

The third section of the petit bourgeoisie is the largest in this country, and, probably, that the world has ever known. Here are included professionals, lawyers, teachers, social workers, highly skilled technicians, engineers, some state employees, etc. A small number are black or brown – very small, in spite of what the ruling class would have us believe. These men and women do work for a salary in most cases but their standard of living is declining and the drudgery and monotony of their jobs is alienating them from the system. They can be won to an anti-imperialist movement and many can be won quickly to the concepts and means of socialism. Among this third section of “working people” are jobs with greater and less socialization. This third section will undoubtedly grow more and more as it takes fewer and fewer workers to produce under the system of capitalism and more and more workers to market and do the business of the state.

Marx uses such distinctions as labor which creates surplus value and labor which realizes surplus value for the capitalists, placing people of the second category in the intermediate classes.

Many of these workers, because of the socialized nature of their jobs are future “gravediggers of capitalism” along with the proletariat, but there tend to be major differences among them. Government workers tend to be very loyal to the government or very disaffected. Some professionals are loyal to their companies; some see themselves as very independent. On the whole, it is a very dangerous grouping which we must work with carefully, but which can be won to the leadership of the proletariat if the cause is broadly anti-imperialist. Because of their greater independence (coming from their different relationship to the means of production than the proletariat’s) they will be more difficult to win to the dictatorship of the proletariat, or even to a disciplined proletarian movement and army.

Many college students and junior college students are destined for this section of the petit bourgeoisie and can be identified as having the same wide diversity of interests and loyalties. Of course most youth come from working class backgrounds and because of the special question of youth created in this last dying phase of imperialism, even a larger sector of such students can be won quickly to the struggle against imperialism and the leadership of the proletariat.

4. The proletariat includes the bulk of wage workers in the communications, transportation and production industries. It includes sections of service industries (like hospital workers, non-professionals) and clerical workers. A great part of these workers are black or brown. These are men and women, the greatest single class in the society and the world, who work each day selling their labor power in return for the necessities of life, and who own practically nothing and yet who produce the wealth of the whole society. Their wages are as a whole low, taxes hit hardest on them (including the blood tax for imperialist wars), and they have the least stake in the companies they work for. Their basic interest lies in an immediate end to the imperialist system and the institution of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

We know that many of these workers, especially white workers, are not class conscious and are not the moving force of the anti-imperialist struggle at present. Our task is not to look elsewhere than the proletariat for the base of our movement but to root out the obstructions to the creation of a vanguard among workers. One thing should be cleared up: it is not that we, or Marx or Lenin certainly, see the proletariat as a “vanguard in the development of class consciousness”. The point is that the working class has the primary organizational role in the struggle – after it has been won ideologically and politically.

Let me quote C. V. Lydegraf on the reasons why we must work for the “creation of a vanguard movement among industrial workers (but not excluding very strategic roles from communications, service, intellectual workers and workers in uniform.)”

a. To expedite the most speedy and efficient and thorough defeat and dismemberment of the institutions and mechanism of the system of imperialism by a force which can also supply and nourish the people’s army and help deliver blows at the strategic times and places.
b. The only organized force ready and able to begin to build up the material base of the new life as well as ultimately its superstructure are the workers – when the old has been cleared away, construction follows.
c. When won to revolutionary consciousness – to the ideas of Marx-Lenin-Mao – workers both industrial and others become a vanguard not only in constructing the new life, but in resisting the restoration of old ideas and old classes, (from a letter, C. V. Lydegraf)

There are several major divisions among the proletariat which are responsible for, in great part, the general lack of class consciousness at this period: the divisions between skilled and unskilled, the division between men and women and the divisions/between white and black and brown, a division which is symptomatic of the major division between American workers and the workers of the world.

Black people, Chicanes, Puerto-Ricans, American Indians and Asian Americans: these people have developed historically as internal colonies of the United States, embody elements of both the external and internal struggle against the U.S. ruling class – on the one hand, the struggle of the colonized people of the world, on the other hand, the struggle of the U.S. working class against monopoly capitalists. Red Papers, from the Bay Area Revolutionary Union

The division is between workers who are colonized and exploited, workers who belong to oppressed nations, and workers who are simply exploited and have developed, through the growth of imperialist education, militarization, and trade unions, in more or less allegiance to the oppressor nation. This division is the cuffing edge of the proletariat. The struggles for national liberation that have grown up among black and brown people in this country are now being carried into the heart of the population: in the schools, the workplace, the communities. Here black and brown anti-imperialist leadership challenges the white national chauvinism of the white workers and forces them to see their own interest in opposition to the imperialist nation and the capitalist system which oppresses them.

The black and brown proletariat are thus expressing most clearly the proletarian interest of the whole proletariat. It is this leadership which must be now the vanguard of the developing anti-imperialist movement if imperialism is to be defeated and the dictatorship of the proletariat established.

There are two sectors of the proletariat about which people have become particularly confused: aristocracy of labor and sub-proletariat.

There has traditionally existed within this country, and still does, a sector of the proletariat dominated by the trade unions and the skilled trades within the industrial unions. Because this sector has closed its doors to the struggles of other workers, for its own material benefit, and is the basis of much corrupt sell-out union leadership, it is called the aristocracy of labor. It is not a greatly expanding category but must be seen as the enemy in the fight against reactionary unionism.

Secondly, there has been much talk of a lumpen-proletariat”. It makes more sense I think to divide that large sector of unemployed, marginally employed, people on welfare, state aid, etc. into two chief divisions. The first is the lumpen: a class of criminals, semi-criminals and men and women who live off fellow workers. The second division is of those who are literally forced out of work or for whom there is no employment. In this sector of the proletariat we see the picture of this racist, decadent society the clearest.

As fewer and fewer people are needed to produce what is necessary for the life of the whole country a complicated “tracking system” comes into play. Black and brown youth, plus some white youth from more oppressed proletarian backgrounds, are kept out of the higher levels of education, forced into military service for the monster and then many are left in unemployment. As unemployed or partially employed, they represent a reserve labor force which is used as a threat to the jobs and wages of the employed. In this way a massive sub-proletariat has been created which is primarily black and brown and is most clearly seen in poor rural areas and in the ghettos of the big cities.

We are already seeing that this second section of the sub-proletariat along with a few individuals from the lumpen, are the basis for a revolutionary movement of black liberation. Because these men and women are employed from time to time and are so close to the working proletariat the struggles in this sector are soon carried into the whole proletariat.

We may argue endlessly whether such and such a group of professionals or white collar workers is in the petty bourgeoisie, third section, second seat – or in the proletariat. That is not the point. The point is that the “relationship to the means of production” is particular as well as general. It is not just owning it or not owning it, a much more particular analysis tells that different sectors of the population can be won to the revolutionary cause in different ways and to different extents. On examining the realities, we see there are “middle classes” with varying relations and attitudes. We see also the key role of the proletariat if it is won politically and the leading role that black and brown workers are playing because of the national character of their struggle, which in fact, is international in so far as it attacks U.S. imperialism.

Much more practice and data must be developed before we can make a more accurate class analysis in this way. The more our class analysis advances the more certain we will be in our direction. But even these few outlines can help put the youth movement in perspective.

III. The Revolutionary Youth Movement and the Struggle against Imperialism

The principal contradiction in the world today is between U.S. imperialism and the oppressed peoples of the world. That means we must unite all classes and sectors of classes that can be united to deal blows, weaken and eventually destroy imperialism. At the same time, we have to win the proletariat to the anti-imperialist movement because it is the key force in destroying imperialism and in building socialism. Finally, we must try to help build open communist leadership in the anti-imperialist struggle.

This is the task of today: Build a communist movement and make the anti-imperialist movement understandable to all those who can be won to it. To make it understandable and recruit to it we must take this anti-imperialist movement to the just struggles of the people the way the people see and shape their struggles at this period.

We must continue the militant organization of youth from all class backgrounds against imperialism.

It is in this context that we approach the special question of youth. There has always been a special question around youth, in that party cadre and the people’s army are primarily recruited from youth. But in the U.S. today youth take on a new aspect due to the great numbers of people under 25 and the effects on youth of the present crisis in U.S. imperialism. The schools are crumbling and becoming more jail-like, more youth are denied employment, almost all young men face unjust military service in a decaying army, and the police and courts are moving to deal with youth who are reacting to the injustice and inadequacies of the system.

A new combination of mass base and cadre is possible among youth – a highly conscious and yet sizeable fighting force. This Revolutionary Youth Movement can achieve its goal of seeding a full scale anti-imperialist movement and aiding in the developing of a proletarian army in ways that youth and young intellectuals in past revolutionary struggles could not. The Revolutionary Youth Movement can be a material fighting force in the struggles against imperialism now and through their struggles educate the people to the nature of imperialism and the possibility of struggling against it. This was the concept of the Revolutionary Youth Movement: building that force under the leadership of the black and brown movements and recruiting ever more deeply from youth of more oppressed backgrounds. Now w can lay down a few guidelines and principles of struggle from our class analysis.

The Revolutionary Youth Movement must not only expand to include working class youth, it must take on the struggles of the working people against imperialism – e.g. fights against bosses, sell-out unions, exploitative businessmen, city government, landlords and the pigs. It must bring its internationalism, its support of national liberation struggles, to the specific class struggles of the people against their immediate oppressors.

This is one of our key tasks, finding the roads to the working class, to win them to the anti-imperialist movement, but not our only task. We must continue the militant organization of youth from all class backgrounds against imperialism; we must continue to build massive confrontation against the agencies of military suppression and economic exploitation of third world countries and the internal colonies of this country; we must raise the slogan “get out of Vietnam” in a new way – with a strategy to make it operative – and rally all sectors of the population around it that we can. We should realize that the leading role of the proletariat in that anti-imperialist movement is now being played by the black and brown movements, and the movement against the war must go hand in hand with the movement to stop the repression of black and brown people.

Our response to repression must not be to stop our efforts to reach out to the mass of the people. We cannot harden ourselves with whomever will join us and stop our mass work. When the man comes down with armed assault on our movement, as in Berkeley, or Greensboro, we must fight back in whatever ways we can prepare ourselves to fight back. The people will surely see the justice in our actions if we are directing our struggles towards reaching the mass of people and winning them to our side.

Let me stress emphasis on four major areas of work:

1. While maintaining and building our movement on the major campuses, we must move more and more into working class high schools and junior colleges, fighting against the class and colonial functions of the schools. Our programs for all the schools should reflect the attempt of the whole youth movement to take on the schools by raising the demands of those hardest hit, the most oppressed.
2. More and more we should link directly with community struggles against universities, hospitals, urban renewal, and the pig. Linking up with community youth, we must bring forth clearly our anti-imperialist perspective as we fight to serve the people in these community struggles. The community movement – especially community youth – should be fighting as a single movement with students against schools and universities.
3. We should place more emphasis on reaching into the military. The brothers in our movement should stop talking about organizing the military and go in.
4. Where possible, we should try to reach out to more young workers on the job. Many of us leaving school should plan to take jobs permanently among the proletariat.

The Revolutionary Youth Movement must actively seek black and brown leadership as well as leading its own fights against white supremacy. Revolutionary black and brown leadership does exist and the only reason not to concretely link our movement to if is a left-over racism and petty bourgeois arrogance and individualism. We must stop seeing the Revolutionary Youth Movement as a white movement – it is already directly led by black and brown youth in the schools, in the communities, and in the factories.

Finally, we must take more seriously the job of becoming communists. We must be clearer why we are communists – through study and practice – and we must be more open about communism to the people we work with, winning them to socialism whenever we can.